Surprising mummy ingredient found in ancient Egyptian workshop


In a 2,600-year-old embalming workshop, scientists have discovered the ingredients for mummification: the tars, fats, resins and oils that ancient Egyptians used to preserve their bodies and prepare them for the afterlife.

The findings, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, suggest that the substances used to make Egyptian mummies — at least at this workshop — are the product of a very global supply chain, reliant on connections with the Mediterranean, the rest of Africa It may even be possible to even Asian source specific ingredients that have antifungal and antibacterial properties.

“That’s really the most fascinating part of it,” said Mahmoud M. Bahgat, a biochemist at the National Research Center in Cairo and a member of the research team. “If the Egyptians go that far and get these specific natural products from these specific countries and not some other country in between, that means they mean business, it’s not just about trial and error…they understand microbiology.”

Some embalming manuals – along with chemical studies of specific mummies – have lung is the main window into the mysterious and complex 70-day process of drying and preserving corpses. Then, in 2016, archaeologists unearthed an underground embalming workshop just a stone’s throw from the famous pyramid of Saqqara, the necropolis of the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis.

The site has more than 100 vessels, including clay beakers and red bowls, some with labels explaining how the contents should be used during the mummification process: “place on his head” or “make his smell pleasant” or protect liver.

With these inscribed containers, scientists can perform chemical analyzes of the remains inside to try to reconstruct their original contents. The result is a very specific window into the mummification process.

“One of the things I love about archeology is that we have all these texts that mention mummification, but this archaeological discovery gives us these you Insights that cannot be gained from the text.” who were not involved in this work. “The materiality of it, and these materials associated with it, gave us a really rich understanding of the process of preserving the body.”

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The study provides a wealth of interesting information about how ancient Egyptians sourced embalming materials.

Natural bitumen is a tar-like substance thought to come from the Dead Sea.By-products of juniper and cypress and a species called pistachio Possibly from the Mediterranean region. They also used resin from the Elemi tree, a tree that grows in the rainforests of Africa and Asia.

Most intriguingly, scientists have discovered dammar resin, which comes from a tree family that grows in the forests of India and Southeast Asia.

“The anticorrosion industry was a driver of early globalization because it meant you did have to ship these resins long distances — from Southeast Asia to Egypt,” said the study’s co-authors Philipp W. Stockhammer, archaeologist at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich. Stockhammer believes this occurred through a trade network that stretched from what is now southern India through the northern Gulf region to Egypt.

But Smith said he wasn’t entirely convinced by the Dharma results, which were found on just one sample and were the only ingredient that required a trade route to Asia. After thousands of years, the residue ages and degrades, so chemical analysis can provide clues about what was once inside the container, but not a reliable reading. This leaves room for scientific debate over whether the residue is the chemical fingerprint of a particular plant.

For example, Smith noted that some chemical analyzes could be interpreted as evidence that Egyptians were importing plants found in present-day America. “We knew there was no cross-trade between the Old World and the New World, so they rejected those hypotheses,” Smith said.

The new research challenges other long-held assumptions about ancient Egypt. In literature, “antiu” has always been taken to mean myrrh. But Saqqara’s five vessels labeled antiu actually contained a mixture of animal fat and oil, or tar from cedar, juniper and cypress trees.Likewise, “sefet” is thought to refer to a sacred oil, but three containers with that label contained The combination of animal fats and vegetable additives suggests that it may have been a scented ointment.

New discovery of Saqqara tomb is rewriting the history of ancient Egypt

Sofie Schiødt, an Egyptologist at the University of Tübingen in Germany, studied an earlier embalming manual dating to around 1450 BC. The findings will raise the question of how much of the Saqqara finds at any one time were specific to the site, said Dr.

The composition of antiu, she said, was “completely different from what we expected. The question is, why did we find this difference?”

One option, she says, is that years of research into the texts have been simply wrong. But it’s also possible that there was something unique about the site’s containers, or that the ingredients used — or the word itself — evolved over time.

“This new study is very important because it gives us some new tangible evidence,” Schiødt said. “But it’s not exactly what we expected to find, so what does that mean?”

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